Much attention has been paid during the last couple of years to the emergence
of autonomous weapons systems (AWS), weapon systems that allow
computers, as opposed to human beings, to have increased control over
decisions to use force. These discussions have largely centered on the use
of such systems in armed conflict. However, it is increasingly clear that
AWS are also becoming available for use in domestic law enforcement.
This article explores the implications of international human rights law for
this development. There are even stronger reasons to be concerned about
the use of fully autonomous weapons systems—AWS without meaningful
human control—in law enforcement than in armed conflict. Police officers—
unlike their military counterparts—have a duty to protect the public.
Moreover the judgments that are involved in the use of force under human
rights standards require more personal involvement that those in the conduct
of hostilities. Particularly problematic is the potential impact of fully
autonomous weapons on the rights to bodily integrity (such as the right to
life) and the right to dignity. Where meaningful human control is retained, machine autonomy can enhance human autonomy, but at the same time
this means, higher standards of responsibility about the use of force should
be applied because there is a higher level of human control. However, fully
autonomous weapons entail no meaningful human control and, as a result,
such weapons should have no role to play in law enforcement.
This article is based on a presentation made by the author at the informal expert meeting
organized by the state parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
(CCW) 13–16 May 2014, Geneva, Switzerland.